Esko residents will notice a change in the parking lot of the sports complex on Canosia Road. There is an empty spot where the old bus barn once stood.

The projects were approved at the regular school board meeting on July 23, 2019. A public hearing was held August 27, 2019, with a regular board meeting that followed. At that time, the board voted to add the cost of paving the parking lots at the sports complex and the parking lot at the new bus garage to property tax statements.

The district will cover the costs of the new bus garage and offices with money from its transportation fund, said Superintendent Aaron Fischer.

“The old bus garage was in very poor shape and we needed to expand the parking lot by the fields,” Fischer said.

The old Esko bus garage, pictured here before construction started on the new facility in May, was built over 40 years ago. (Jamie Lund / Pine Journal)
The old Esko bus garage, pictured here before construction started on the new facility in May, was built over 40 years ago. (Jamie Lund / Pine Journal)

Construction on the new bus garage began in May. The base cost of the building is $317,000, Fischer said. He added that they are still waiting for a few of the final estimates for the office completion, wells and other costs The bus garage building is expected to be complete in July.

The parking lot is estimated to cost $862,000 and is funded by an abatement bond. The abatement bonds were ratified Feb. 18, 2020. The project is also expected to be completed in July.

Tax abatement bonds can be used to finance buildings or improvements to parking areas of Minnesota schools, Fischer said. The bonds are repaid from a tax levy.

The tax levy on the sports complex will expire in 2022. When that levy expires, it will be replaced by the parking lots for seven years: at an estimated $340,000 for the first three years and $260,000 for four years after that, Fischer said. Residents may notice a decrease on their property tax statements when the old levy expires and the new levy begins.

The Esko School buses are too large to fit in the stalls of the old bus barn. (Photo courtesy of Laurie Groth)
The Esko School buses are too large to fit in the stalls of the old bus barn. (Photo courtesy of Laurie Groth)

"We are asking taxpayers to forgo a portion of their tax decrease resulting from the voter approved Series 2013A being paid off," Fischer said.

Laurie Groth, transportation director for the school district and a bus driver for 28 years, said the garage needed an update. Several of the doors would not close, others could not be locked and there were holes in the roof. The aluminum building was over 40 years old, and officials have talked about replacing it for at least 10 years.

The old building also had dirt floors throughout, except the attached maintenance building where Groth's office was. The dirt floor allowed moisture to get in and caused the undercarriages of the buses to rust, she said.

Parking became more of an issue during events after the sports complex was built. The district put up no parking signs so buses had enough room to turn and get into their stalls, but fans often parked in front of them, Groth said.

Bus drivers would have to find the vehicle owner and ask them to move. People were not always cooperative.

"You just learn to make due," Groth said.

The new bus barn will be located away from the activities and will be built on a cement slab. It will also have specific areas for the office and maintenance.

The district has 13 buses, a handful of vans and a trailer, Fischer said. The new garage will have 16 stalls, two of which will be heated for district staff to complete maintenance work or to clean buses.